Ind vs Eng – Call-up to Test squad reward for Akash Deep’s years of toil

Akash Deep had just finished bowling a spell during Bengal’s Ranji Trophy game against Kerala in Thumba and was manning the boundary line, when everyone in the Bengal dressing room started clapping in unison and congratulating him. He had just received his maiden call-up to the India Test squad, for the last three matches against England, a reward for his performances in red-ball cricket for Bengal and India A over the past season.

“I was hopeful that in the near future I might get a Test call-up if I keep performing but I didn’t expect that it would come by the third match itself,” Akash Deep tells PTI from his hotel room in Thumba.

For 27-year-old Akash Deep, it was the latest step up in a career that started with him being a star tennis-ball allrounder in Durgapur in Bengal, before he graduated to playing first-division cricket in Kolkata, followed by the Under-23s and then first-class cricket. Along the way, he has played in the IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore, too.

If someone had told Akash Deep, then the 15-year-old son of government school teacher in Bihar’s Sasaram, that he would have a career in cricket, he himself would have laughed it off.

“In Bihar [suspended by the BCCI at the time], there was no platform and especially from the place where I came from, Sasaram, playing cricket was a crime,” Akash Deep says. “Lots of parents would ask their children not to mingle with Akash as he only plays cricket and your studies would go for a toss.

“But I don’t blame them. What would you have achieved playing cricket in a place like that? You would be wasting time and not even become a cricketer, and also ignore academics. Your future would be ruined and they were worried. So, were my parents.”

As for Akash Deep’s father, he wanted his son to appear for exams that would get him a government job.

“I was in the ODI squad in South Africa and realised that more than skill, at this level, it is more about mental strength of being able to execute plans under pressure”

Akash Deep

“Appear for Bihar police constable’s exams or at least try for state government’s Class IV staff [peons], my father used to say,” Akash Deep says. “He would fill up those government job application forms and I would go for exams and come back submitting blank forms. In my mind, while cricket was my passion, I just wanted to be happy and never thought about making it a career.”

Things changed when tragedy struck, not once but twice, within six months.

His father died first, followed by his elder brother, who left behind two young daughters.

“My father and my brother died within six months. I had nothing to lose, and the motivation was that I had to take care of the family,” Akash Deep says. A friend helped him join a club in Durgapur but the money he earned came from playing tennis-ball cricket.

“I would play proper leather-ball matches for my club, but initially there was no money. So three to four days a month, I would play tennis-ball matches around the district and earn Rs 6000 per day. So I would earn 20,000 per month, which helped me run my expenses.

“I never had any fixed coach. Saurasish Lahiri (current Bengal assistant coach), Arun Lal sir, Rano sir [Ranadeb Bose], all have helped me from time to time, and whatever I could learn, I have learnt.”

Akash Deep has 103 wickets from 29 first-class games and in two four-day games against England Lions recently, he took 11 wickets, including two four-wicket hauls.

“Inswing is my stock delivery, but at this level, you need to have outswing and reverse swing and more importantly need to control the swing,” he says. “I was in the ODI squad in South Africa and realised that more than skill, at this level, it is more about mental strength of being able to execute plans under pressure.”

At the India Test squad, Akash Deep will have for company Mukesh Kumar, another Bengal quick bowler.

“This is a matter of pride that myself and Mukesh bhai will be in the Indian dressing room together in a Test team,” Akash Deep says. “Bengal is our state and it has given us everything. This national call-up is my way of showing my gratitude to Bengal.”

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